Google's been enjoying a boom in Android sales for the last year or so, at least in smartphones. However, this success hasn't been replicated so far with Google's other mobile platform, the Chrome OS aimed at low-end laptop-style devices.
For this reason, Google seems to be stepping up its strategy of working with key hardware partners, resulting in devices like the newly unveiled HP-built Chromebook 11.
Design and build
HP and Google have both made a big deal about the Chromebook 11's build quality - one Google spokesman went so far as to describe the device as the "Wolverine of Chromebooks". On paper there's certainly a lot of merit to these claims, with the system boasting a metallic reinforced magnesium frame despite its low weight of 1.04kg.
Google claims the 297x192x17.6mm reinforced chassis is capable of taking more than the average wear and tear and should be able to survive the odd accidental bump or drop hassle free. While we didn't get a chance to actually drop test the Chromebook 11 during our hands-on, we were very impressed how robust the device felt.
Despite the slightly cheap feeling shiny plastic finish, the chassis has little give to it and feels much better built than any laptop we've experienced in the same £229 price-bracket.
During our hands-on we were also impressed how comfortable the keyboard was to type on. While, like any laptop in the same 11in size bracket, the keyboard did feel slightly squashed, the keys were suitable snappy and responsive and the Chromebook's slightly rounded frame made it comfortable to type on.
In terms of ports, the Chromebook 11 is sparsely equipped, featuring just two USB 2.0 ports and a SlimPort video output, which uses a microUSB style connector.
The Chromebook 11 comes with an 11.6in in-plane switching (IPS) display boasting a 300-nit brightness and 176-degree viewing angle. Using the Chromebook 11 in regular office lighting conditions we were fairly impressed with this screen. While far from the crispest we've ever used, the display was bright and colours looked rich and vibrant.
It also proved to have fairly decent viewing angles, with the display remaining legible even when viewing at an awkward angle. However, usersmay struggle to read itin in more adverse lighting conditions, like direct sunlight out of doors.
Software and performance
The Chromebook 11 comes with the latest version of Google's Chrome OS preinstalled. Whether this is a positive or negative is largely determined by which desktop and mobile ecosystem you're already accustomed to.
For those familiar with it, Chrome OS has a lot of benefits. Being largely cloud based, Chrome OS offers decent performance even on modest hardware. It does this by offloading a lot of the heavy lifting, traditionally tasked to the device's processor, into the cloud. This lets it do things like instant start and run demanding game applications traditionally beyond its Exynos 5250 processor and 2GB of RAM.
The OS also features built-in multiple security layers designed to ward off malware. This, combined with its low market share which makes it an unpopular target with cyber criminals, means the Chromebook 11 is on a paper a very secure choice for businesses.
Chrome OS also makes setting up the device a doddle for people with a Google account, as it can transfer and setting up all their apps, shortcuts, calendar and email services with one simple login. Even better, the latest version of Chrome OS goes beyond the traditional set of online-only services, featuring support for a number of applications that can run offline, including Google Docs and Gmail.
However, to those more accustomed to Apple or Microsoft platforms, the OS can seem fairly constricting. Considering how embedded most businesses are in the Windows or Mac ecosystems and services, this could be a massive sticking point for many buyers.
Storage and battery
Storage-wise the Chromebook 11 comes with a modest 16GB of solid state storage built in, which cannot be upgraded. Luckily, for those with an active internet connection Google's bundled the Chromebook 11 with 100GB of Drive cloud storage free for the first two years after purchase.
The Chromebook 11 is quoted as capable of six hours active use off one charge. We didn't get a chance to test the projected life during our hands on but will be sure to test it properly come our full review.
One plus point we did notice is that the Chromebook 11 charges using a generic microUSB cable, not a bespoke input. While this sounds small it does make the Chromebook 11 far more travel friendly, removing the need for you to pack an extra charger when away on a business trip.
Our initial impressions of the HP Chromebook 11 are positive. The Chromebook 11 appears to be a robustly built, yet lightweight and travel friendly netbook replacement.
Our only real concerns regard the nature of Chrome OS itself. Despite having a significantly better offline app offering than previous Chromebooks, a lack of inbuilt storage could still prove a problem for those regularly out of range of a network connection and the central focus on Google products and services will remain an issue for businesses already invested in alternative ecosystems.
The Chromebook is available in the US now and is confirmed to launch on Amazon, Google Play, HP Shopping, Currys and PC World on 21 October. Check back with V3 later for a full review of the Google Chromebook 11.
By V3's Alastair Stevenson
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